In the first chapter of his second epistle to the Thessalonians Paul gave thanks to God for the testimony of the Thessalonians and encouraged them in their time of persecution. In the second chapter he corrects some misunderstandings of the prophetic program that had concerned them.
Paul had told them in his first epistle that the Christians were not appointed to the wrath of the “day of the Lord,” and that the Rapture would come first (1 Thessalonians5:1-10). We read:
Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things? (2 Thessalonians 2:5).
The “day of the Lord” in Scripture refers to God’s judgments on the inhabitants of earth in the last days. It begins immediately after the Church is raptured and includes all of the events that characterize the Great Tribulation. The return of the Lord Jesus in glory, and His millennial kingdom, are also a part of it.
Two Events – Gathering and Glory
In chapter 2 of the second epistle Paul speaks of the Rapture AND the glorious appearing of the Lord while in Chapter 1 he spoke only of the glorious appearing and described it as a dramatic and fearful sight for the unsaved. In his first epistle he spoke only of the comforting hope of the rapture of the Church and it is well to note that at the Rapture we have LIVING saints changed as well as the dead raised. Only those “in Christ” are raised in the Rapture which eliminates Old Testament and Tribulation saints.
When the Old Testament saints were raised, the living Old Testament saints were NOT changed and when Christ returns to earth the living saints from the Tribulation go ALIVE in natural bodies into the Kingdom. (Matthew 25:34; Zechariah 14:16). They are NOT changed at that time either.
Paul begins with the words:
We beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him (2 Thessalonians 2:1).
Between these two events the awful judgments of the day of the Lord are enacted. Paul is raising this subject because there have been several events that have taken place that have led the Thessalonians to fear that they were already in the Tribulation.
Paul had indicated that the day of wrath would come as a “thief in the night” (1 Thessalonians 5:2), but they were fearful that they had missed the Rapture. This had caused them to be shaken in their minds by two things:
- The persecution they were enduring was
- Letters had been received telling them that the Great Tribulation had already
Their understanding was that the day of the Lord was the time of God’s wrath poured out on the ungodly, and Paul had assured them:
“Ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief (1 Thessalonians 5:4).
The reports were coming to them by “spirit, word, and letter” (2 Thessalonians 2:2).
Some had claimed they had received a word of prophecy from the Lord, that the day of the Lord had come. Some claimed they had heard about it from others, but the most convincing of all was a pseudo- graphic letter that had been received with Paul’s name on it. Paul brands these messsages as deceit and says:
Let no man deceive you by any means (2 Thessalonians 2:3).
Erroneous teachers had echoed the same message and caused the believers to fear. If these messages were from God, then why did Paul say that the rapture of the Church would precede the day of the Lord? (1 Thessalonians 5:9).
The concern of the Thessalonian Christians is strong evidence that Paul had taught these believers about the pre-Tribulation Rapture of the Church, otherwise why would they be so concerned?
A Falling Away or THE Departure
Paul now proceeds to speak of two events that must occur BEFORE the day of the Lord could come.
That day, shall not come, except there come a (the) falling away first, AND that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition (2 Thessalonians 2:3).
The Greek noun translated “falling away” is apostasia, and the core meaning of the word is “to stand away from or depart.” It is used here and in only one other place in the New Testament, in Acts 21:21 where Paul is accused of teaching Jewish converts to forsake (depart from) the teachings of Moses concerning the law.
The verb form of the word is found 15 times in the New Testament and has several usages. In 1Tim.6:5 Paul tells Timothy to “withdraw” (depart) himself from ungodly men. That is the opposite to apostasy.
In his letter to the Corinthians Paul expressed the desire that his “thorn in the flesh” might “depart” from him, that is, that God would remove it (2 Corinthians 12: 8).
In Luke’s Gospel the word is used of Anna the prophetess who “departed not from the temple but served God with fastings and prayers night and day” (Luke 2:37).
It is recorded in Acts 12:10 that when Peter was imprisoned by Herod, the angel conducted him through the prison gates to the streets of the city and then “departed from him.”
In Luke 4:13, following the temptation of Christ, it is recorded that the Devil “departed from him for a season.”
Christians are told to “depart from iniquity” (2 Timothy 2:19). So on eleven occasions the verb is used of a physical departure from a place or from people. On only three occasions is it used of a departure from the faith (Luke 8:13, Hebrews 3:12, 1 Timothy 4:1). Once it is used of departing from sin.
What exactly does Paul mean when he says that “the falling away” must come before the Tribulation?
Many say that the falling away prior to the commencement of the Tribulation refers to a departure from the faith, but is this correct?
How did the early translations of the Bible translate this word? The Latin Vulgate Bible, around AD400, used the word decessio, which means “departure.” Seven English translations, from the Wycliffe Bible of 1384 to the Geneva Bible of 1608, all translated the word as departure or departing. The King James Bible of 1611 was the first English version to translate apostasia as “falling away.”
It is also important to note that when Paul wrote this epistle he used the definite article before the noun, therefore it should read, “THE departure.” This indicates that Paul was speaking of a specific event of which his readers were already aware. The Rapture was fully discussed in the first epistle, and the subject of this chapter is
the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him” (2 Thessalonians 2:1).
Apostasy in the Last Days
Let us now return to the previously posed question, “What did Paul mean?”
Many understand Paul to mean a “departure from the faith” prior to the Rapture; a time of wide-spread apostasy. Theodore Beza, the successor of Calvin in the 1500s, transliterated the word apostasia.
The word has since come to mean a departure from the faith once delivered to the saints.
But was Paul talking about a departure from the faith? As previously mentioned, in the original Greek the noun “apostasia” is preceded by the definite article, which indicates that Paul is talking about a definite event that will precede the Tribulation and will be clearly identifiable when the time comes.
It is true that the Scriptures indicate that in the last days there will be an increase in lawlessness and a departure from the Word of God.
When Paul wrote to Timothy, he said that men would become totally self-centred and rebellious toward God (2 Timothy 3:1-5). He also said that “in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils” (1 Timothy 4:1).
However, when Paul addressed the Ephesian elders, he warned that “grievous wolves” would enter in among them “not sparing the flock”. These would be men “speaking perverse things to draw away disciples after them” (Acts 20:29-30).
Apostasy is not just a feature of the last days, for it was present in the Christian Church in the days of the Apostles and has continued for the last 2,000 years.
It is true that after the rapture of the Church there will be a worldwide ecumenical religious movement that will seek to bring all religions under its control. This system will also have a large influence on the political development of Antichrist’s kingdom (Revelation 17:7). It is already emerging but will not come into being until after the Rapture. Paul told the Thessalonians that the Tribulation will not come until after “the departure” takes place, so it cannot be referring to this system.
Paul reinforces the view that it is the Rapture, and not a departure from the faith, when he says:
For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth (restrains) will let (will restrain), UNTIL HE be taken out of the way. And then shall that Wicked (One) be revealed (2 Thessalonians 2:7-8).
“Taken out of the way”, is the departure. The word translated “caught up” in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 is harpazo in the Greek and means, “to carry off by force” or, to “snatch away”. Paul says this must happen FIRST. “Until he be taken out of the way” in the interlinear Greek New Testament reads, “until out of the midst he be gone.”
Who Hinders the Appearance of the Man of Sin?
The one who restrains or hinders Satan’s plan to rule the world today is God the Holy Spirit indwelling His true Church. It is His influence in the Church that prevents the whole world becoming absolutely corrupt and evil in the sight of God. The Church is the salt of the earth.
It has been Satan’s desire to place his man of sin over the kingdoms of this world but someone has been hindering and it is the Holy Spirit indwelling the Church. Jesus said that when the Holy Spirit comes “he shall reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment” (John 16:8). Trace the history of the world over the last 2,000 years and see how the Roman Empire, which will be Antichrist’s seat of power, has been frustrated by the true believers. Paulicians, Albegensees, Waldensees, Hugenots, Moravians, Ana-Baptists, Wesleyans, German Reformers, etc. have all stood in the way of the development of Antichrist’s kingdom, ridden by the harlot woman of the Papacy.
Britain stood in the way of the kingdom of Antichrist. Her missionaries went to the fartherest parts of the world and translated Scriptures into many languages. The British navy and army overthrew the Pope’s armies and navies and preserved the elements of the true Church.
Christians should never underestimate the value of a life lived to the glory of God. It has more weight in this world than can be imagined.
Paul says that the revelation of Antichrist is held back until the presence of the Holy Spirit is removed, and that event takes place when the Church is raptured. These verses show that there is the same progression of thought in Verses 3, 7 and 8. The two signs that will indicate that the “day of the Lord” has come are repeated.
- The departure FIRST when the Church is taken out of the
- The man of sin is then revealed, the Wicked one, whom the Lord will destroy at His coming at the end of the
From earliest times there have been two views of who it is that hinders the appearance of Antichrist. Chrysostom (AD347-407), in his Homily 4 on 2 Thessalonians 2:6-9, mentions them both. He writes:
What then is it that withholdeth, that is, hindereth him from being revealed? Some indeed say, the grace of the Spirit, but others the Roman empire, to whom I most of all accede. Wherefore? Because if he meant to say the Spirit, he would not have spoken obscurely, but plainly, that even now the grace of the Spirit, that is the gifts, withhold him. And otherwise he ought now to have come, if he was about to come when the gifts ceased; for they have long since ceased.
Because the sign gifts of the Holy Spirit had ceased long before the day of Chrysostom, and the Roman Empire was crumbling under the attacks of Germanic tribes, he concluded that the restrainer must therefore be the Roman Empire and that once it collapsed, which it did in the West in AD476, the man of sin would appear. However, Antichrist did not appear.
Many Bible commentators have followed this line of teaching, and because AD476 did not bring Antichrist to power, they see the Papacy, which began (AD600) with Gregory the Great, as the “man of sin”. The Reformers and others believed the Papacy was the Antichrist.
Antichrist, however, is a man and not a system. The Hinderer is also a person; the Holy Spirit. The Papacy is symbolized in Revelation 17 and 18 as the harlot woman, and the Antichrist as the Beast.
The Holy Spirit did not depart when the sign gifts ceased with the passing of the Apostles, and He still indwells the true Church. While the Church is present in this world the “man of sin” cannot be revealed, but once the Holy Spirit, indwelling the Church, is removed then the man of sin will appear.
Paul reinforces this point:
But God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation (deliverance at the Rapture) through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth (2 Thessalonians 2:13).
Election is always to glorification and not to faith. We are “elect (chosen) according to the foreknowledge of God” (1 Peter 1:2). Here the word salvation is used in the same sense as in (1 Thessalonians 5:9).
God hath not appointed us unto wrath (Tribulation) but to obtain salvation (deliverance) through our Lord Jesus Christ.
The word salvation here cannot mean salvation from the guilt of sin for Paul was speaking to believers who were already saved from guilt. The salvation (deliverance) here is from the presence of sin.
Therefore in God’s foreknowledge and foreordaining power, He has determined that the believers of this Church age will be delivered BEFORE the wrath of the day of the Lord. Our salvation will be complete with the redemption of the body at the Rapture, so the day of the Lord cannot commence until the Holy Spirit indwelling the Church is taken away.